Since 2019, many areas of Poland have implemented so-called 'LGBT-free zones'. In addition, several local governments within Poland have also proceeded to ban ‘LGBT ideology'. The zones represent an attempt to undermine the rights of queer people residing in Poland. Viewed through the lens of discourse theory, the zones not only present a threat to LGBT+ security but are also one of the most significant threats to LGBT+ rights within the EU.
What are the Polish 'LGBT+ free zones'
The zones violate non-discrimination EU legislation that protects LGBT+ people, namely Article 27 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (European Commission, 2022), leaving the queer communities vulnerable to hate crimes, as mentioned by the European Parliament (2021). One way to understand the zones and their impact on LGBT people is by examining the theorization of the concept of 'home' and discourse theory.
The 'LGBT free zones' and related legislation have led to a confrontation with EU institutions, that have worked to invalidate the resolutions establishing the zones. However, EU endeavors have progressively helped ameliorate the situation so that currently, there is a reduced number of ‘LGBT+ free zones’ still active in the country, going from over 100 municipalities and regions (European Parliament, 2021) to around 50 (ILGA Europe, 2021).
The concept of discourse
Discourse is key to analyzing this issue. Although a somewhat elusive term, it is crucial to see it in two dimensions: linguistic and material. Thus, language as a concept needs to be developed. Discourse theory states that language is a system of representation because words and gestures are signs that hold meanings, not 'real' objects. Instead language functions as a playground in which the individual meanings of the members of a collectivity intersect. Hence, by sharing these meanings, individuals can communicate (Hall, 2013). For instance, everybody knows what a dog is, even though everybody has a different mental image of a dog.
Nonetheless, discourse is capable of not only residing in language dynamics but also transcending them. According to Laclau, it “entails anything meaningful, including individuals, objects, actions, and practices. Discourse […] is very much material, or rather it includes the material alongside the linguistic insofar as it is meaningful” (Kølvraa, 2017, p.98). In other words, discourse is not only language, but it has material effects. For example, while a long bench with divisions is meant to give a seat to multiple people, it simultaneously prevents homeless people from sleeping on them.
By following the same train of thought, Laclau stated that discourses are structured in chains of equivalence and difference. Although both contain meanings, their functions are contrasting. While the first term is the dominant logic in a given society, the second one contests and validates the first. These two logics are defined by nodal points or signifiers with enough prevalence in discourse that can pinpoint other signifiers present in discourse (Kølvraa, 2017). In this case, the EU discourse protecting LGBT+ rights is widespread in the region and can be seen as a chain of equivalence. One example occurred when Ursula Von der Leyen stated that the EU would not tolerate discrimination towards LGBT people (Von der Leyen, 2021). On the other hand, the discourse that reigns in the 'LGBT+ free zones' is a chain of difference that reacts to a status quo that aims to protect LGBT+ rights.
Home as a space of ontological security
Within discourse theory, the home has a particular definition; it is a space that brings ontological security to the subjects. Such ontological security is considered “a primary drive, in every social actor” that aims to secure the identity of the individuals (Mitzen, 2006, p.272; 2018). In contrast to the external scene filled with uncertainty, home is the space where through consistent practices, the self’s identity can stabilize (Mitzen, 2006). In other words, “home is comfort, familiarity and safety; it implies retreat to a private space […] that provides refuge from an unsettled, potentially threatening world” (Mitzen, 2018, p.1374).
Mitzen (2018) already pointed out the need to imagine home not as a space with fortified walls but as a space of social encounters. This comparison reveals the relations between the members of a home and its power relations. Home is not necessarily a place of stabilizing joy; it is a place of struggle and exclusion. Religious conservative households with queer members are some of the clearest examples of it. Where the government cannot guarantee the protection of LGBT+ rights to a section of its citizenship, LGBT+ individuals lose their ability to 'feel at home' in their home country.
The discourse of the 'LGBT+ free zones'
In the case of the Polish ‘LGBT free zones’ and related legislation, one can see the functioning of the reactionary discourse that attacks the LGBT+ community.
The so-called ‘Charter of family rights’ overtly emphasizes straight marriage and its protection. One of the mentions states that “Art. 18 of the Constitution requires public authorities to provide special protection and care for marriage, being a union of a man and a woman, as well as the family, motherhood and parenthood” (Government of Poland, 2020, p. 5).
This use of rhetoric implicitly tries to undermine the validity of queer parenthood and households, where the institution of marriage is 'under attack' by LGBT+ families. The document proceeds to state, “it is especially crucial to exclude any chance of allocating public funds and public property that undermines the constitutional identity of marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman or the autonomy of the family” (Government of Poland, 2020, p.6).
In summary, the construction of a home in the 'LGBT free zones' is exclusionary and can escalate existing discrimination against the LGBT+ population inhabiting it. Queer communities cannot feel at home in these spaces; this alienation will profoundly affect their identity and well-being. In response, the EU has condemned these spaces and, at the same time, exerted a construction of a home that includes LGBT+ people in Poland. While the EU has played a positive role in reducing the effects of this discrimination, more efforts should be made if the EU wants to stop any further harm to the queer people living in these areas. As it stands, they remain in danger.
European Commission. (2022). Legal aspects of LGBTIQ equality. Retrieved from European Commission: https://ec.europa.eu/info/policies/justice-and-fundamental-rights/combatting-discrimination/lesbian-gay-bi-trans-and-intersex-equality/legal-aspects-lgbtiq-equality_en
European Parliament. (2021, 03 11). Declaration of the EU as an LGBTIQ Freedom Zone. Retrieved from European Parliament: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2021-0089_EN.html
Government of Poland. (2020). Local Government Charter of the Rights of the Family. Retrieved from https://v.fastcdn.co/u/ff8eca37/50262470-0-SKPR-commune-ENG.pdf Hall, S. (2013). The work of representation. In S. Hall, J. Evans, & S. Nixon, Representation. Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (pp. 1-47). SAGE Publications Ltd. ILGA Europe. (2021). Poland. Anti-LGBT Hate Timeline. Retrieved from ILGA Europe: https://www.ilga-europe.org/files/uploads/2022/06/Poland-Anti-LGBT-Timeline.pdf
Kølvraa, C. (2017). The discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau. In R. a. Wodak, The Routledge Handbook of Language and Politics (pp. 96-108). Routledge. Mitzen, J. (2006). Anchoring Europe's civilizing identity: habits, capabilities and ontological security. Journal of European Public Policy, 270-285. Mitzen, J. (2018). Feeling at Home in Europe: Migration, Ontological Security, and the Political Psychology of EU Bordering. Political Psychology, 1373-1387.
Von der Leyen, U. (2021, 07 07). Twitter. Retrieved from Twitter: https://twitter.com/vonderleyen/status/1412682185488977926
Cover Image. Renter, R (2021). LGBT+ Flag in a parade [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://unsplash.com/es/fotos/wuxdtGMNYaU?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink
Figure 2. Staszewski, B (2020). Krasnik 'LGBT free zone' [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Krasnik_lgbtfreezone.jpg
Figure 3. Zenda, K. (2019). EU in LGBT+ Pride Parade [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://unsplash.com/es/fotos/aS527U3Z9XI?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink
Figure 4. F, Chiara. (2020) (In)security at home [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://unsplash.com/es/fotos/CUHdxpr-Cwc?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink
Figure 5. Silar (2019). Demonstration of support for the homophobic preaching of Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski. Sign reads: "Down with Libtard ideological totalitarianism"; the "down" (go away) is also symbolized by the crossed-out gay pride flag". [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:02019_0075_(2)_Rechte_Demo_der_Unterst%C3%BCtzung_f%C3%BCr_die_homophobe_Predigt_von_Erzbischof_Marek_Jedraszewski.jpg